Camp Westerbork

After Adolph Hitler's seizure of power, thousands of Jews fled to the Netherlands. From February 1939 the Dutch government organised a refugee camp for them in Drenthe. Just before the German occupation, this Central Refugee Camp Westerbork accommodated around 750 Jewish refugees. After the Dutch capitulation, they were not allowed to leave the camp and were forced to work. Although initially under Dutch control, at the beginning of July 1942 the responsibility for the camp passed into the hands of the German security police and was given the official name of "Judendurchgangslager Westerbork". The only function of the camp was to deport Jews and gypsies (Sinti and Roma) to the east. The first transport of Jews took place on 15 July, to be followed by 92 others. Most of the prisoners died in Auschwitz-Birkenau or Sobibor. A total of 101,525 Jewish prisoners passed through the transit camp, the vast majority of whom spent no more than a few weeks there, and sometimes only a few hours. More than two hundred Jews escaped from the camp.

 

The three commanders of the camp were German SS officers, but the daily administration was in the hands of the Jewish prisoners themselves. From the beginning of 1943 the camp was composed of twelve departments (administration, management, industry, hospital, kitchen, etc.), which were headed by figures appointed by the camp population itself. Working in one of the departments was very much in demand because it meant a - temporary - postponement of deportation. The same was true for those who managed to get a job with the hated Jewish militia, who took the selected Jews with their luggage to the trains.

 

The heads of department, with Kurt Schlesinger as "Oberdienstleiter", enjoyed a privileged position in the camp and consisted mainly of German and Austrian Jewish refugees. One of the tasks of the Jewish heads of department was to select those who were to be put on the transport. On "Crazy Tuesday" (5 September 1944) many Dutch Nazis sought refuge in the camp before leaving again three weeks later: many of the women and children left for Germany, while the men returned home. In early 1945 a number of barracks were made ready to accommodate about 380 non-Jewish female political prisoners. A few days before the liberation of the camp on 12 April 1945, the camp commander Gemmeker left Westerbork. The Canadian liberators found about nine hundred prisoners in the camp. It is now under the protection of the International Red Cross.

 


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Kamp Westerbork

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